back Our third choice entry for the Welcome2France 2007 Essay Contest

Everything Happens for a Reason by Gail Chu


Everything happens for a reason, right? I was laid off from my job in January 2005. I was ok with it. After 19 years of working at the same place, it was time to move on. Unlike all my colleagues, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was going to live in Paris (temporarily)!

I immediately booked a flight for February. I crossed my fingers and secured a fully furnished apartment on the internet. It was the middle of winter, but I was excited to spend my birthday in Paris. This was not my first time in Paris so I was comfortable about being by myself in a foreign country. Two of my friends made plans to visit for their birthdays. Just like home, I would be entertaining house guests.

I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport early Saturday morning. It was still dark, it was raining, the streets were empty, but Paris was as beautiful as I remembered. I gave my address to the driver, Rue Saint Julien Le Pauvre. Location, location, location! The driver let me out across the street from Notre Dame on the Left Bank. He brought my luggage to a blue door and said I was home. I was greeted by a young woman who did not speak English. She could not have weighed more than 100 pounds. But, she picked up all of the bags and shot up the stairs. I followed panting and gasping for air.

My apartment was a fifth floor walk up, 98 steps and worth every one. The view was of Notre Dame and glistening rooftops. It was not a big place but it was bright, comfortable and it had more amenities than I had at home. With my laptop set up on a large desk facing the windows, I was able to keep in touch with my friends and family. An email each day recapping my day's activities was going to be my way of letting them know that I was safe.

After settling in with a shower and a short nap, I was ready for the adventure of a lifetime. I was going to save all the touristy sites for my friend's visits. My plan was to do everything I would be doing at home, except for work.

My neighborhood, the Latin Quarter is young and lively. Everything is conveniently located right outside the front door. Its narrow streets are lined with restaurants, bars and shops. Down the street on Blvd. St. Germain is my favorite outdoor market at Maubert Mutualité. They set up 3 days a week, rain, snow or shine, with colorful fruits, meats, seafood, flowers, clothes, etc... They had everything I needed to stock the apartment: cheese, olives, paté, baguette and wine. With an armful of flowers and a bag of fresh groceries, my apartment is now a home.

It snowed the first 8 days I was there. According to the Parisians, it was a very rare occurrence. It was not the miserable snow like we have in Boston. It was a gentle snow that was beautiful coming down, but did not stay on the ground long enough to become ugly and messy. The weather did not stop me from doing anything. Paris is such a walking city. The gorgeous snow covered rooftops across the city just enhanced the sights along my walks. On the day I decided to go to the Trocadero, there was a white out, and the Eiffel Tower was only a shadow. It gave me a whole different view of a famous landmark I've seen several times before.

While my friends were there, we celebrated birthdays with champagne and ``special'' drinks at Bar Hemingway at the Ritz. I played tour guide and showed them as much as I could in a city that has so much. We went up to Montmartre. There, in a piano bar just behind Place du Tertre we hung my old business card with the word ``retired'' written across it. We browsed through Musee D'Orsay. It is a treasure. Not only for the famous paintings on the walls, the architecture and design of this former train station is a piece of art. The Louvre is stunning inside and out. Its Pyramides exuded different moods at various hours of the day. We saw Paris from the tops of Notre Dame with the gargoyles, Arc de Triomphe to view the crazy traffic below, and the Eiffel Tower to see it all. We strolled along Champs Elysees. We browsed in shops on Ile St. Louis. We bought artwork along the river and up on Montmartre. We lingered and people watched at cafes. We took quick train rides to Epernay and Reims for champagne. We hopped on a plane to Nice to enjoy the beach and Carnival.

We did not skimp on food and wine. We had the basic raclette, salad nicoise, confit de canard. Our most memorable meals were steak frites at Relais de L'Entrcote, oysters and sancerre at outdoor cafés under the warm heat lamps, crepes and croissants while strolling along the Seine and of course, foie gras on Ile St. Louis. Mid-afternoon café stops became a daily routine. On the border of Le Marais and Bastille is my favorite restaurant, Chez Janou. The atmosphere was animated, the décor was inviting, and the people were French.

During my time alone, I explored some of the smaller museums. I love the Rodin Museum. The garden is serene and beautiful. I was comfortable walking around day or night. I sat at cafés with my journal. I traveled to the outskirts of Paris on the Metro, which were very easy to navigate. I strolled along vibrant flea markets and scent filled outdoor food markets. I took a cooking class and went to a show at the incredibly, but tastefully, ornate Opera Garnier. Exploring a different arrondissement each day and walking along the Seine were the highlights. Each neighborhood is charming and welcoming. Each bridge along the river is unique and stunning. I've spent hours just taking in all the intricate ironworks which decorated the windows of each building.

To my surprise, people and Paris were not only elegant and confident. They were extremely open and friendly. Everyday, I met someone new. I would be sitting at a café by myself, and strangers would stop by to say hi. Some even joined me for a drink to discuss a book I was reading or to offer help with what to do in Paris. Some just walked beside me to chat. Back in Boston, if a stranger did that, I would be nervous and suspicious. In Paris, I was flattered and intrigued.

After 5 remarkable weeks of living in Paris, I reluctantly return to Boston. I was sad to leave, but I knew I would return. Since that trip, I've spent two more birthdays in Paris and Bar Hemingway. It has become a tradition I look forward to each year.

I no longer want to live in Paris. I love it too much.

Gail Chu - Brookline Massachusetts, United States